Rise of the Guardians (dir: Peter Ramsey) would appear to be this year's Big Dreamworks Christmas Movie. Which, for a start, takes place in Easter. With snow thick on the ground and Jack Frost revelling in his element. Okay! And though I did fall asleep between the 2nd and 3rd acts, my overall view is "not too bad".
The film relies heavily upon childhood fantasy figures like Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Sandman being good, and things like fear, darkness, doubt and nightmares being things too lazy to separate their dark powers into different characters and bad.
"Pitch" is our baddie in this outing, and given that in movies such as this the baddies are always British, Jude Law manages to give the part some humour with his terse-yet-slippery delivery. However, there are no real jokes for him to sink his teeth into, or, indeed, any sort of development at all invested into this character. It's made clear right from the start that he is BAD and will be defeated and who he was before all this stuff happened just doesn't matter. He's BAD. That is all.
But disappointing Bad Guy aside (and the super-saccharine theme of the film: "Believe in your dreams, children! And your dreams will believe in you! Hoorah!" Literally bearing unicorns and ponies at times), the rest of the main ensemble were surprisingly engaging.
Isla Fisher voices The Tooth Fairy with some spunk, elevating her out of the usual ensemble girl role of "Oh noes! Disaster! If only there was a boy to save me!", giving her a role that is both charming and feminine but also satisfying for not being patronising. She's also a character breaking out of the typical super-skinny-young-girl mold, with a fine pair of child-bearing hips.
Chris Peel (who?) pulls off a pleasant enough devil-may-care Jack Frost whose development into The Hero forms the backbone of this movie, though he comes off a little selfish and smug, even after he rallies against the forces of Me! Me! Me! and officially joins the cause. He is, however, drawn with a distinctly Japanese influence which somewhat jibes with the rest of the movie, but could be what the pre-teens these days identify as being cool: not something I would know about.
The Sandman, a character easily overlooked due to his silence, was charming but confusing to anyone who isn't from North America. It's not a thing we do here (we have, at least, heard of Jack Frost) and some time had to be spent explaining his mythos to a 7 year old boy. But, it's fair to say, Sandman was beautifully animated even if the opportunity for visual gags was overlooked after the first time the main characters assembled on screen.
There were two highlights for me, however. The first was Alex Baldwin as a Russian, slightly reckless, hedonistic Santa who - brilliantly - is tattoo'd and fights with a double-handed sword technique that would leave many a DnD nerd gasping for breath. Of course Baldwin could read the ingredients of cat food with charm and swagger, but as Santa he really is quite charming. It's fair to say that he brings a certain amount of heart and actual sentiment to the movie, playing this chidlhood staple with just enough pathos backed up with humour.
The second best bit was Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny, with broad Aussie accent and many movie references (the Croc Dundee reference was so beautifully fitted and timed it caught me off guard - resulting in my being the only person laughing in the audience). He's gung-ho-yet-sensitive and comes equipped with a decent arsenal of one-liners yet, like the chocolate eggs he's famed for, is revealed to have a gooey centre after all. Though Jackman was acting his face off, I did pause to ponder why this character couldn't also have been female. Let's blame source material and leave it at that.
What I thought:
It's a lively offering and certainly beautifully animated, but (unusually for Dreamworks who can boast titles such as Shrek, Rio and many other for-the-grown-ups-too movies) there's very little in it to hold an adult's attention. There is very little violence (little bit of impermanent character death) which seems to have allowed the writers to go to town with the sweetness factor; turning a local bully (Cupcake, but with no explanation or even sarcasm, the nicely-chosen name was lost) into a child lost in innocence within seconds of encountering her was just one example. It's not really aimed at kids outside of the US and Canada, though it's been heavily marketed in Europe since September. I've not even heard of the source material ("The Guardians of Childhood" by William Joyce) much less read so can't say how this stands up to what it's based upon. Honestly, though, if your kid either isn't 7 years old or expects a little more meat with their mythology, I'd say wait for The Hobbit in two weeks' time.
What He thought:
Euan adored Sandman and found his gimmick of constantly flashing icons made of sand over his head amusing. He wasn't scared at any point, but also didn't care very much about the whole thing. He did note that Santa didn't much seem the type to enjoy a mince pie left out on Christmas Eve, nor did he understand the concept of Pitch - the baddie seemed, to Euan, like someone who could be quite nice and fun if only everyone would stop being mean to him. All in all, he seemed to have found it a colourful and entertaining experience, but I doubt he'll be regurgitating any of this in two days' time, much less be repeating jokes months after watching it like he still does with Shrek and Rio.
Watch it for something to do at the mall beyond surviving Christmas with the kids or for a way to occupy the younger ones while you nap for half an hour after lunch. It does have its moments but it's not a keeper. 3/5.
Irrelevant Side-Comments: Have a Very Merry Sexist Christmas! (Marketing Gripe)
Two commercials played before the trailers started. The first was for Hornby, a very high quality electric train set which has been around for years and years. The ad starts with a boy playing with a mere circle of track. As the ad continues, the boy (habitually in the same attic) is given more track and time passes. Eventually he's older and, look, there's his grandson, also in the attic, and they have this huge set-up and are both watching it obsessively while soppy music plays. There's some fucking awful line about Hornby: Keeping people happy forever which really deserved to have "But only if they're boys" tagged on the end.
But fear not! Us girls got our own slice of heaven immediately after when the next commercial began.
A mum goes through the rigmarole of Christmas. Shopping for presents, wrapping them, putting up the decs while hubby and the kids play X-Box, more shopping, buying (and being difficult about the selection of) the tree, decorating the tree blah blah blah. For every one of the 40 or so seconds she's on screen, she's frazzled and frenzied but, we're told at the end of the commercial, it's okay, because that's what Mums do, and that's why ASDA is there to help us. And I added out loud, WHY WE DON'T EVER GET TO PLAY HORNBY. This observation won me a patter of applause, satisfyingly.
This abhorrent spirit was repeated, but in a different form, when time was allowed for jostling and a single song got played. Here's what immediately followed the ASDA ad:
Brilliant! Thanks! Merry Sexist Christmas to you motherfuckers, too!
Final note: the trailer for The Life of Pi looked amazing. I can't wait.